Back in Week 3, I struggled to understand and articulate what I had learned using the books of Wisdom so here is my second attempt. To have a better understanding of how to interpret the biblical writings of Wisdom: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, first we need to learn about the writings which influenced them.
Christopher Stanley reminds that people observe and predict patterns in nature so then those who are religious thinkers try and apply this to determining consequences based on human actions and choices. Today these thinkers continue to attempt to answer moral questions. He further discusses how both Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures had traditions of wisdom which the writers of the Hebrew Bible would have been impacted by. The writers of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job were very highly educated and yet they were written in ways and dealing with topics which would have resonated with people across the classes. (pg. 494-496)
Starting with Proverbs
Barry Banstra talks about them some instructional literature from ancient Egypt called the “Maxims of Ptahhotpe” and “The Teaching for Merikare” which are written as instructions from a father to a son. Proverbs is also written to a son how to be a good public servant. Another Egyptian writing which influences Proverbs is “The Instruction of Amenemope” especially Proverbs 22:17-24:22.
As historians study Sumerian proverbs they can note the similarities to the book of Proverbs those found on the hundreds of clay tablets discovered in places like Nippur, Susa, and Ur. They can directly be paralleled to Proverbs 10:1-22:16 and 25:1-29:27. (Waltke)
Looking at Ecclesiastes
According to Bandstra Ecclesiastes is comparative to “The Dialogue of Pessimism” a Babylonian writing is also known as the Babylonian Ecclesiastes. He also shares the style of writing including the language, choice of words, and the themes can be compared to Greek philosophy which scholars feel means it may be one of the last books of the Hebrew Bible to have been written.
In an article by Claude Mariottini he shares how humans have questioned life through both wisdom and pessimism writings as they try to understand why do good people suffer and what is the meaning of life. Often people are confused or uncomfortable with Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible since it is one of the most pessimistic writings and misunderstood from the original context in which it was written. He lists them taken collectively out of a book by James B. Prichard “Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament”, 3rd. ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978)
Job is paralleled with some Mesopotamian writings “A Man and his God” the Sumerian composition informs an individual to pray to God and humbles oneself during sickness and suffering. The writing called “Ludlul Bel Nemeqi” deals with a suffering man who blames a higher power and finds deliverance. Another writing based on the story of Ahiqar is about a scribe who deals with misfortunes but at the end of the story prevails. (Bandstra)
Miriam Lichtheim has translated an ancient Egyptian writing called “The Dispute between a man and his Ba” (The Debate Between a Man and his Soul) which has qualities of lyric poetry, prose, and a symmetrically structured speech discussing a man struggling with life feeling like his soul wants to leave him. The soul speaks on the sadness of death and because it doesn’t want the man separated from humanity decides to stay with the man. (Wikipedia) When I read this description I felt it sounded very similar to parts of Job’s story. Although Job’s friends try to blame Job’s suffering on him, there is still a poetic dialog trying to understand suffering.
Scratching the Surface
As I pull this information together I am overwhelmed just in the sources supplied as class readings at how many ancient writings there are that actually can be attributed to the Hebrew Bible writings. The Bruce Waltke article shares list upon list and he is not the only scholar studying in this area. Please feel free to research even more and share your findings with the rest of us as a comment on this post. It would be exciting to see what others have discovered and learned.
The Bible Project story videos
For your learning enjoyment, I am including a series of videos from the Bible Project each which are under 10 minutes and describe the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. These three videos go together and they are designed for learners of all ages and levels of comprehension.
Looking in more depth at the prophets Amos, and Hosea to compare their messages to Isaiah:
More about Amos
Amos was written first who focused on oracles against the nations. It has an introduction written in the third person and discusses the kings of the Israelite nations similar to both Isaiah and Hosea in style. It differs by using a very precise date noted as happening prior to a major earthquake. (Amos 1:1-2) Another style of Amos is the characteristic of an angry God. Amos makes it clear God is not happy with nations who harm Israel but also turns God’s wrath on the people of Judah and Israel specifically the wealthy as referenced in Amos 4:1-3. And because they have sinned so disgracefully they can’t repent and must face their consequences. He rebuffs the people’s belief that God will come and protect them by instead stating that if God comes it will only be to punish as they were unfaithful which has earned them God’s wrath and nothing else. (Amos 5:18) The book of Amos also has a series of oracles five deal with what God will do based on the Israelites behaviors in the first two God relents, in three and four God punishes, in five the leaders get punished, and in the last peace and prosperity return which is why this was most likely added to Amos as a revision later because the rest of the book is too much doom and destruction.
Isaiah sounds a lot like Amos in his criticism of religious practices not being in line with issues of social justice and that could be because he was most likely influenced by Amos. Isaiah is calling out the leadership in Jerusalem and not those in the northern Kingdoms of Israel and Samaria which is the main difference to Amos.
More about Hosea
The book of Hosea was written after the prophet died and is broken into two relatable parts. Chapters 1-3 discuss Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, a woman who worshiped other gods than Yahweh which is why she is called a prostitute. Arguably, only her first-born son is attributed in the text as being Hosea’s child so some believe she was unfaithful in marriage also. Of course, this is a theory trying to explain a story written for an audience a long time ago and not us. Known as the first prophet to make examples of his family life Isaiah would copy him in Isaiah 7-8. The second part of the book Chapter 4-11 is a collection of oracles discussing disasters and salvation.
Isaiah might have been familiar with Hosea since they both use the harlot/prostitute metaphor but again was instead applying his teachings to the people living in Judah.
Isaiah differs from both Amos and Hosea in that the writings do not utilize the Exodus Mosaic teachings and the Covenant code but instead focuses on David’s rule.
Our final unit is law in the Hebrew Bible and since I get to make up my own lesson I will base it on Exercise 56 found on page 300 in the Christopher Stanley text.
Prior to the examination of scriptures I will be doing here is some background information I wish to share. Dr. Cheryl Anderson reminds that biblical laws are not meant to be used in today’s context and if you try and do that be sure you know what the law really says before trying to do so. Also, laws change over time and the examples she uses are the two sets of Ten Commandments with the Deuteronomy version as a rewritten version of the ones found in Exodus.
In his lecture Dr. Brooke Lester discusses the different legal codes such as Covenant located in Exodus 20:22-23:33 which were codes written for male heads of household in the community and were to be applied between these types of households, Deuteronomic found in Deuteronomy 12-26 to talk about changes in law code about slaughter and sacrifice and king rules, Holiness Leviticus 17-26 codes on how to keep the land clean. He also talks about the Decalogue which proceed the codes in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 and the Cultic Decalogue found in Exodus 34:10-26.
Decalogue is a fancy name for the Ten Commandments and because the first three or four depending on the version you are using begin with religious laws they cannot be the basis for United States civil law. Another reason they cannot be used as such is because there are multiple versions which are not exactly the same. A third reason is that there are other collections of laws in the Hebrew Bible. Exodus 20:22-23:19 is the Book of Covenant and covers some of the same issues as the Decalogue but here there are punishments. Lastly, when Moses breaks the first set and God reissues another Ten Commandments they are very different than the original set. (Brown)
Please remember this the next time someone argues that the Ten Commandments are the foundation for the laws of the United States. They are not.
Another point Dr. Lester makes is about Apodictic law which is Israelite law that commands without conditions vs Casuistic law which is based and similar to the nations near by. These laws are written in an if, then format or when, then. Capital law is if someone does a certain behavior they shall be put to death.
One last piece of background information to assist you in understanding Hebrew Bible law is that Hammurabi’s code was the most important law code in the ancient Near East and it was the basis for the Covenant Collection found in Exodus 20:22-23:33. Yet, it was not used by judges to make their decisions in court but as a proclamation by the king to guarantee justice. (Van De Mieroop)
Examination of four sets of scriptures will assist us in seeing how law is contained within the Hebrew Bible.
Barry Banstra calls these the Ethical Decalogue full of the religious and moral commands. Looking at Exodus first it can be seen that God is speaking to the Israelite people reminding them it was God who brought them out of Egypt. Verses 4-6 explain to the people that there is only God to worship so the gods of their ancestors and other nations shall not be worshiped. Do not misuse God’s name. Verses 8-11 are a reminder to keep the Sabbath day and not to work on it nor let any family member, slave, livestock, or foreigners in town work because that is the example set forth by God. Honor one’s parents. The list of don’ts murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against a neighbor, covet any thing your neighbor has: house, wife, slave, ox, donkey, or anything else.
In Deuteronomy the passage starts with Moses talking to the people of Israel telling them God made a covenant with them when he went up Mt Horeb. Here is what God said to him: stated that God brought them out of Egypt and they shall have no other god before God. Verses 8-10 state do not make idols or worship them and going farther to state that subsequent generations of children will be punished for the iniquities of parents who disobey but those generations who obey will get Gods steadfast love. Do not misuse God’s name. Verses 12-15 lists the same group of individuals and animals which need to rest on Sabbath this telling remind the people to do so because they should remember they were once slaves whom God saved. Honor parents. Shall nots are murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against a neighbor, covet a neighbor’s wife, house, field, slave, ox, donkey or anything belonging to the neighbor.
The most notable difference is the reminder to the people to treat their slaves well for they were once mistreated slaves and God wants them to not treat their slaves how they were treated.
Examples are of case or caustic law because they have the if, then statements.
Starting with Exodus where if one buys a male slave the slave shall work six years and released without debt his seventh year. If he is single, then he shall leave single-if married, then his wife goes with him. If he is given a wife who has children the wife and children remain property of the master and he goes alone. On the condition that a slave states his love for his family this means he pledges allegiance to his master gets his ear pierced and remains a slave for life to that master.
These scriptures are addressing burnt offerings Leviticus is very detailed and is God informing Moses to speak to Aaron and his sons regarding the rules of slaughtered animals being brought to the entrance of the tent to be presented to God and if it is not done then the offender will be cut off from the group. And this rule applies to foreigners residing with the Israelite people.
Deuteronomy states directly to the people from God to take burnt offerings to the correct place in each tribe. It can be eaten wherever as long as the blood is not consumed and needs to be poured out onto the ground. Although the grain tithe, wine, oil, firstlings of herds and flocks, any votive gifts given as a vow, freewill offerings, and donations must still go the the designated place to honor God.
I believe this is an example of the laws having to change because of context. It was probably too hard to bring meat to Jerusalem from the farthest away tribes, but the other items would keep longer or were easier to transport and still needed to follow the rule of temple consecration for these items.
In the last example Numbers God tells the people that the Levites are to be in charge of the temple and will be the religious leaders accountable for their actions. Since this is now their lot in life they no longer have allotment among the Israelites.
Deuteronomy is speaking about tithes and how they need to be brought to the temple unless it is too far away then the people can sell their sacrificial items and bring the money to the temple spending the money on what they choose and consuming it in God’s presence making sure to include the Levites since they have no allotment. Every third year a full tithe shall be given so that not only will the Levites be taken care of but also the foreigners, orphans, and widows.
The second scripture includes more individuals in need while both are reminders to care for those unable to care for themselves when it comes to tithing.
What are the roles and meaning of blessings to the Ancestral Story?
First, we must define the Ancestral Story. The Ancestral Story is a collection of three sagas which follow the stories of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph and combined are the story which shares the history of establishing Israel. (Bandstra, pg. 78) Also known as the Ancestral Narrative the stories link the people to the land and are found in Genesis. (Stanley, pg. 82)
How is covenant important to blessing?
In the Ancient Near East, the cultures made agreements with one another which contained obligations in the form of rules binding both parties together. These contracts might be between city-states or nation-states and even person to person. Another important thing to understand about these contracts is that they acquaint us with the idea of covenant. Covenant described as the contract or treaty God has with the people of Israel. (Wells)
There are two types of covenant conditional and eternal. Conditional can be broken when the people fail to do God’s will, but can always be restored if the offenders repent. Eternal covenant is made with Abraham as the relationship God will have with the people of Israel. God promises to serve as the people’s God, to make them a great nation, and to provide them with the land of Israel. Abraham promises to worship God as the one and only God by following God’s rules. The eternal covenant is then passed on to the next generations of Isaac and Jacob. (Sweeney)
In his lecture, Dr. Brook Lester shares how Walther Eichrodt determined that covenant was the most important theme of the Hebrew Bible. There have been many other scholars since who have different views on the most important theme, but Eichrodt’s theory is strongly supported by biblical text. He further discusses how there is a cycle the chosen people follow of committing sin, repenting, and then asking for God’s forgiveness which all happen with God’s underlying grace.
The cycle happens because it is the fulfillment of the covenant. Yahweh promises the covenant he made with Abraham will last forever and extends to the people of Israel as long as they follow the laws God gave to Moses. If they do this then they will continue to receive Yahweh’s blessings and protection. (Stanley, pg. 16)
Was Abraham a positive or negative model of how to respond to blessing?
Abraham is the first monotheist or follower of only one god. Genesis shares the story of how Abraham came from Mesopotamia where his ancestors were polytheists and worshiped several gods. Abraham broke from his family tradition to enter into covenant with God. (Hendel)
There comes a point when God tests Abraham’s faith in the covenant/blessing they share. Long before this happens Abraham’s story starts with God calling him to leave his homeland in Genesis 12. God creates the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 in which Abraham will have a son and many descendants. The covenant is restated with a condition in Genesis 17the condition is that all of Abraham’s male descendants must be circumcised.
Throughout Genesis, Abraham chooses to do things which go against what God has told him to do. The first deceitful action is to tell the Pharaoh that Sarah is his sister to save himself from harm. (Genesis 12:10-20) Abraham and Sarah grow impatient waiting for Sarah to get pregnant. Sarah has her maidservant, Hagar, become a surrogate mother in her place. (Genesis 16:1-16) Another example of how Abraham did not wait for God to fulfill God’s promise.
Abraham continues to display his lack of faith this time in God’s protection from Abimelech when he was staying in a place called Gerar. It is the same scenario as with the Pharaoh he tells Sarah to lie and say she is his sister to protect him from harm. (Genesis 20:1-18)
Each of these choices demonstrates how he chose to protect himself and how each lacked trust that God would uphold God’s end of the covenant. So God chooses to test Abraham. The story is found in Genesis 22:1-18and tells of when Abraham takes his son Isaac up the hill to sacrifice him as God asks him to do. Isaac is the son Sarah gave birth to which was when God completed the blessing to both Abraham and Sarah of a request for an heir.
Isn’t God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son who is his blessing a bit harsh?
Scholar Ellen Davis suggests that God’s actions are not too harsh if God doesn’t really know what Abraham will do making this a true test of faith. She believes that Genesis doesn’t support the theological notion that God is all knowing. Secondly, God must demand everything from Abrahams so that Abraham learns who is in control of the covenanted relationship. Another interesting point Davis makes is that the correct title for the story is the binding of Isaac as he is never really sacrificed because his father complies with God’s request and in return sends a ram to be actually sacrificed.
The foundations for healthy relationships depend on how we bless, encourage, and support one another and when we practice these characteristics with each other it enables us to develop strong self-image and positive attitudes.
I have too many people to list by name that have been and continue to be my encouragers and those who bless me. It is because they positively affirm me that I am able to keep working on this goal towards ordination as a deacon and completion of my Master’s degree.
The challenge this week is to understand where the stories of creation contained in the Hebrew Bible came from and what did they say to the people for whom they were written. Genesis kicks off our Christian Bible and contains many of the stories I have heard multiple times over the past 40+ years participating in the United Methodist Church. Again I can’t help but feel let down that the clergy who retold these stories in my presence have never used the lenses that the scholars I read this week have done. By shying away from challenging the disproven myths and not using the contemporary knowledge they simply continued to reinforce that women were somehow less than men. I feel angry and betrayed that I wasn’t given more information at an earlier age so that I could have formed my own conclusions on stories contained in the Bible. Maybe it was a matter of the student being ready for the teacher to appear? I guess it really doesn’t matter for I have the opportunity now, so here we go…
The creation stories you might be familiar with are found in Genesis. Genesis is the first of the five books which make up the Torah also known as the Pentateuch and where this blog post will focus on why the stories there are not found in other parts of the Hebrew Bible and why they differ from other creation stories. After a description of how the scholars explain the content and how they believe it came to be, I will use other creation story excerpts found in the Hebrew Bible and compare them to the Genesis 1-2 creation stories.
The Pentateuch is comprised of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy and is the terminology used by scholars while Torah is typically what religious leaders call the same five books. (Bandstra) In the article by Jean-Louis Ska he states that scholars agree that the Pentateuch was written in the Persian period. In his lectures, Dr. Brook Lester discusses how biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen came up with the documentary hypothesis in 1878 working with others to explain why the evidence in the Pentateuch demonstrates multiple writers. How it is believed that Genesis is worked over by one writer who is also the redactor or editor of the Pentateuch.
Christopher Stanley defines the documentary hypothesis as the theory which proposes four earlier written sources are combined to make the Pentateuch. (pg. 297) The four sources are called J- the Yahwist narrative because it calls God Yahweh. This narrative is considered epic and shares how humans came to be and how one group of people became the people of God. It has the first account of the nation of Israel and its importance to God. The next is the E- Elohist source written in the northern kingdom of Israel in either the 800s or early 700s BCE after J- the Yahwist narrative. Elohim is a broad word to describe God, not God’s proper name, Yahweh. It also refers to the plural gods which causes confusion. The Elohist source is found mixed with the Yahwist narrative and the writer was a priest. He wrote about moral implications of human behavior, fear of God, God coming to people in dreams, and prophets. These two sources have some writings called JE- combined Yahwist-Elohist epic which took place after the fall of Israel in 721 BCE. The Elohist source priest fled to Jerusalem with both sets of previously discussed writings and combined them using David’s lineage. This source is also known for the religious and moral devotion it promoted. It is considered the national story for the people who fled to the south after 721 BCE. The third is called D- the Deuteronomic source written after the others. It is not combined with them and is the book of Deuteronomy even though it continues the story of Moses’ life as a collection of his sermons. It has similarities to the Elohist source because it too is written by Levites who came from the northern kingdom of Israel. Last is P- the Priestly document composed by priests exiled after Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in the early 500s BCE. They wrote to bring hope back to the people who felt they were being punished by God for breaking the covenant. The Priestly document focuses on divine blessings, covenants with God, genealogies, and the important role of priests in society. (Bandstra, pg. 20-26) Another scholar, Richard Elliott Friedman, talks about how the Pentateuch using Documentary Hypothesis took hundreds of years to comprise the poetry, prose, and laws found in today’s Bible. He also lists seven attributes to determining how the four sources differ: linguistics, terminology, consistent content, continuity of texts, connection with other parts of the Bible, relation to historical events, and when evidence converges consistently.
Here is my brief synopsis of the parts of these chapters I will compare to the other scriptures:
Genesis 1 God created heaven and earth. The face of the deep, like the wind God swept over the face of the waters. Let there be light. Separated light from dark called them day and night. Dome in the midst of waters and separated waters above and below the dome. Sky. Dry land called earth, waters below became the seas. Plants. Lights in the sky day and night. Seasons, days, and years. Sun and the moon. Creatures birds, sea monsters. Wild animals and cattle and creeps on the ground of every kind. Humankind in our image. Give them dominion over fish, birds, cattle and wild animals and creeping things. Created humankind in God’s image. Dominion over all.
Genesis 2 Heavens and the earth were finished and all their multitude. God rested on the 7th day. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. The day God made earth and heavens no plants, no herbs sprung up, no one to till the ground, a stream would rise up from the earth and water the face of the ground. God formed man breathed live and man became a living being. God planted a garden in Eden. Trees grew including the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flows out of Eden to water the garden which breaks into four branches. God put the man in the garden to till and keep it. Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or you will die. The man should not be alone, make him a helper for a partner. Out of the ground, God formed every animal of the field and bird of the sky. Brought them to man to name. The man named them. No helper was found as a partner so God caused the man to sleep and took a rib making a woman. Brought her to man, the man named her woman. Both were naked and unashamed.
Scholars Discuss Creation Stories
Scholars share the importance of creation stories for ancient people. Shawna Dolansky compares the Hebrew Bible creation stories to those of the other ancient Near East stories which include a goddess who has been omitted by Genesis writers. She feels the main difference is that the Bible version is not about the fall of mankind but of the fall of the goddess. The contribution of Janet Soskice is that Christians have disagreed about their creation views over the years like that the world was made in six 24 hour days. Christians believe God made all and that everything is a gift. She argues that a view like this means creation continues in the here and now. Scholar, David Carr, says the story is not compatible with science but is a theological story showing God’s power and might and how humans share in it. The goodness of creation and humanity’s role in it and that to be like God we are to rest on Sabbath, this is a very important point. It can be missed trying to make the idea of days interpreted as eras to try and fit into a science model.
Isaiah 51:9 God cuts up the chaos monster Rahab at the time of creation. (Rahab may also be symbolic of Egypt at the time of the exodus.
Job 9:4-14 Believed to be part of an ancient hymn praising God as the creator of the universe. (Compare to Gen 1:1-19) Moves mountains turning them over in anger. (Earth was flat and supported on pillars.) Shakes earth, commands the sun, seals up stars, created constellations, Heavens, and earth were covered by the dark waters of chaos. God tamed these waters believed to be a monster so that land could exist, helpers of Rahab bowed to God.
Job 26:7-14 God spreads out the sky suspends the earth over nothing. Binds up water in clouds. Covers the moon with clouds. Creates the horizon on the face of the waters with a boundary between light and darkness. Pillars of heaven tremble. God churns up the sea and his wisdom cuts Rahab into pieces. His breath makes skies fair, his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
Job 38:1-11 God states laid earth’s foundation. Determined the measurements. Stretched the line (horizon) across it. Set the footings and cornerstone. Closed the sea behind doors when it burst forth in creation. Made clouds as its garment. Wrapped it in darkness. Set its bars and doors.
Psalm 8 God set glory above heaven. Made the heavens, moon, stars, set them in place. Made mankind a little lower than heavenly beings. Made man ruler of what you have created and put everything under the feet of mankind. The sheep, oxen, and beasts of the field. Birds, fish, and other sea creatures.
Psalm 74:12-17 Divided the sea by your might. Broke the heads of the monsters in the waters. Crushed the heads of Leviathan giving him as food to the creatures in the wilderness. Made openings for springs and streams, dried up rivers. Made day and night. Sun and the moon. Made the limitations of the earth. Summer and winter.
Psalm 89:8-10 Rule over the sea, quieting the waves. Crushed Rahab and scattered your enemies.
Psalm 104:1-9 Stretch out the heavens like a tent. Sets beams of your chambers on the waters. Clouds are your chariot, ride wings of the wind. Set the earth on its foundations, cover it with the deep as with a garment. Waters stood above the mountains. At God’s rebuke, the waters fled. Flowed over mountains, down into the valleys. You set a boundary they cannot cross so they will never again cover the earth.
Psalm 136:1-9 ( Compare to Gen 1:1,2,16) Made the heavens, spread out the earth on the waters, made great lights, sun to govern the day and moon and stars to rule the night.
Proverbs 8:22-31 Wisdom is present as God created “her” first. Before the world began when there were no oceans, no springs full of water before mountains and hills were in place before the earth was formed in fields or dust. Was present when God set the heavens in place and marked out the horizon on the face of the deep. Established the clouds and the fountains of the deep. Wisdom was beside God when the sea was given limits, foundations of the earth were set. Rejoicing in God’s presence and in the world, delighting in mankind.
Comparisons Genesis & Other Readings
It can be seen that often creation is described as heavens and earth separations. Creation of the sun and moon. The water made into the sea and God making humankind. There are depictions of animals, birds, and sea creatures.
In the combined readings from other parts of the Hebrew Bible, I was struck how many places mentioned a sea monster, either called Rahab or Leviathan. Another glaring difference is how the earth is believed to be flat and situated on pillars. Stars and clouds become more important in these retellings of a creation story. Wisdom is mentioned a couple of times.
Another Creation Story
Now for my retelling, I hope you enjoy!
Before humankind was created by God, the Universe, and Wisdom together they placed in the sky stars formed into constellations, clouds to hold the rain, and the sun and the moon. Next, they defeat the monster called Rahab, the chaos of the sea to make land as mountains with streams and springs. Land strong and stable as if balanced on pillars. Wisdom watches as God creates seasons, makes animals to live on the land, in the sky, and in the sea. Finally, God makes humankind in their image to the delight of Wisdom.
The challenge this week is to imagine I am a Bible writer and I am allowed to write a prequel, sequel, or supporting part to the story found in 2 Samuel 13:1-33. In the readings and lectures to prepare me for this task, I learned the importance of how 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings focus on the biblical monarchy. As reiterated by Dr. Lester in his first lecture several times in Judges the people are condemned for taking matters into their own hands and not doing God’s will so the Israelites end up with kings to guide them just as they have requested. In his second lecture, we learn how the divine king can also provide duties of the priest because of his special relationship with God. The article written by Steven McKenzie further discusses how monarchs in the ancient Near East owned their lands and had final authority over everyone and everything. He also talks about how the sons, or heirs, are the ones who will succeed their fathers for this position. Barry Bandstra spells out how David’s first son Amnon was in line for the throne when he acted on his obsession for his half-sister, Tamar. Tricking their father and her to come visit him in his bedroom he rapes her. Tamar’s full brother, Absalom, takes revenge killing him two years later.
According to information in the article by Deborah Rooke being the victim of rape was probably seen as Tamar’s fault because women were always viewed as adulteresses. In ancient times women were at fault for getting raped because they were seductresses. Victim blaming, or the woman being at fault in a rape, still takes place to today although it is less about committing adultery. Instead, it is believed that the woman should know how to prevent getting raped. She should not go places alone, never wear clothes which make her irresistible to men, never get drunk, and so on and so forth. Before you read the scripture followed by my story I ask you to think about the article by Hilary Lipka which questions if Bathsheba was a seductress or a rape victim. Knowing that the king has power over everyone and everything pretty much sums up my belief of what happened. Power is misused throughout the stories of David’s life as king. If David raped Bathsheba it would explain why he never punished his eldest son and never reached out and took care of his daughter. He viewed Amnon’s behavior as tolerable.
How timely and appropriate to focus on rape during sexual assault awareness month! I did some further research prior to writing my story because I wanted positive inspiration unlike the negative I’d read leading up to my envisioning the story I wish Tamar had lived. The article I found was written by Susan Ackerman expressing roles women would have had in ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible. She even mentions Tamar as being a woman who was able to live independent of a husband because she was the king’s daughter.
2 Samuel 13:1-33 Common English Bible (CEB)
Some time later, David’s son Amnon fell in love with Tamar the beautiful sister of Absalom, who was also David’s son.Amnon was so upset over his half sister that he made himself sick. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible in Amnon’s view to do anything to her.But Amnon had a friend named Jonadab, Shimeah’s son, David’s brother, who was a very clever man.
“Prince,” Jonadab said to him, “why are you so down, morning after morning? Tell me about it.”
So Amnon told him, “I’m in love with Tamar, the sister of my brother Absalom.”
“Lie down on your bed and pretend to be sick,” Jonadab said to him. “When your father comes to see you, tell him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and give me some food to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I can watch and eat from her own hand.’”
So Amnon lay down and pretended to be sick. The king came to see him, and Amnon told the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of heart-shaped cakes in front of me so I can eat from her hand.”
David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Please go to your brother Amnon’s house and prepare some food for him.”
So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house where he was lying down. She took dough, kneaded it, made heart-shaped cakes in front of him, and then cooked them.She took the pan and served Amnon, but he refused to eat.
“Everyone leave me,” Amnon said. So everyone left him.Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom so I can eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the heart-shaped cakes she had made and brought them to her brother Amnon in the bedroom.When she served him the food, he grabbed her and said, “Come have sex with me, my sister.”
But she said to him, “No, my brother! Don’t rape me. Such a thing shouldn’t be done in Israel. Don’t do this horrible thing.Think about me—where could I hide my shame? And you—you would become like some fool in Israel! Please, just talk to the king! He won’t keep me from marrying you.”
But Amnon refused to listen to her. He was stronger than she was, and so he raped her.
But then Amnon felt intense hatred for her. In fact, his hatred for her was greater than the love he had felt for her. So Amnon told her, “Get out of here!”
“No, my brother!” she said. “Sending me away would be worse than the wrong you’ve already done.”
But Amnon wouldn’t listen to her.He summoned his young servant and said, “Get this woman out of my presence and lock the door after her.”(She was wearing a long-sleeved robe because that was what the virgin princesses wore as garments.) So Amnon’s servant put her out and locked the door after her.
Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long-sleeved robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and walked away, crying as she went.
Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has your brother Amnon been with you? Keep quiet about it for now, sister; he’s your brother. Don’t let it bother you.” So Tamar, a broken woman, lived in her brother Absalom’s house.
When King David heard about all this he got very angry, but he refused to punish his son Amnon because he loved him as his oldest child. Absalom never spoke to Amnon, good word or bad, because he hated him for raping his sister Tamar.
Two years later, Absalom was shearing sheep at Baal-hazor near Ephraim, and he invited all the king’s sons.Absalom approached the king and said, “Your servant is shearing sheep. Would the king and his advisors please join me?”
But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son. We shouldn’t all go, or we would be a burden on you.” Although Absalom urged him, the king wasn’t willing to go, although he gave Absalom a blessing.
Then Absalom said, “If you won’t come, then let my brother Amnon go with us.”
“Why should he go with you?” they asked him.But Absalom urged him until he sent Amnon and all the other princes. Then Absalom made a banquet fit for a king.
Absalom commanded his servants, “Be on the lookout! When Amnon is happy with wine and I tell you to strike Amnon down, then kill him! Don’t be afraid, because I myself am giving you the order. Be brave and strong men.”So Absalom’s servants did to Amnon just what he had commanded. Then all the princes got up, jumped onto their mules, and fled.
While they were on the way, the report came to David: “Absalom has killed all of the princes! Not one remains.”The king got up, tore his garments, and lay on the ground. All his servants stood near him, their garments torn as well.But Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah, said, “My master shouldn’t think that all the young princes have been killed—only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s plan ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar.So don’t let this bother you, my master; don’t think that all the princes are dead, because only Amnon is dead.
The rest of Tamar’s story…(not found in the Bible.)
When she heard the news of what Absalom had done she was relieved that Amnon would no longer be able to violate any other women. But relief didn’t last long for she was distraught thinking about what their father might do to Absalom and what would be her fate after this incident.
“My dear brother, you have avenged what happened to me but now I am afraid of what will happen to me as you leave your home to go into hiding from our father.” “Who shall take care of me when you are gone and where will I live?”
Absalom answered her, “Tamar, our father is fond of you and does feel bad Amnon hurt you. Go to him in his grief and ask him for a place to stay and a way to provide for yourself. He is sure to grant you these requests. If he hesitates or refuses, remind him that he is the king and can do anything even if it has not been done before.”
After giving her this advice he made haste, away from the house seeking safety for himself leaving her alone. Tamar internalized everything that had happened to her.
Not long after King David’s servants came to the house looking for Absalom. They said to her, “Where is Absalom? We have come to give him the king’s warning.” She answered them truthfully that she did not know and then asked that they take her to meet with King David.
They did so. She found her father weeping and fasting over the death of Amnon. When he saw her he ceased temporarily and allowed her to enter the room.
“Daughter, you know what your brother has done to my eldest son why are you here?” She answered him saying, “Father, I come for I have no place else to go and because you have sent my brother away I no longer have anyone to care for me.”
“You have come and yet I cannot help you.” He replied. Remembering what Absalom told her and knowing that she faithfully abided by the teachings of Yahweh she said, “Father, you are the servant of God and have been given God’s authority. You are able to even do priestly jobs when needed. Today you will invite me to stay at your house where I will bake the bread until I reach the age when I am too old to bear children. Once this happens I will enter the Temple and perform priestly duties.”
King David agreed and then went back to weeping and fasting.
Because her brother avenged the wrongs done to her by her half-brother she was allowed to live out the rest of her life without stigma and shame for she had done nothing wrong. This did not mean that her life was easy for it was hard work to make the bread for all who resided at the house of her father.
And when she finally reached the age when her body would no longer bear children she entered into the Temple to assume her priestly duties where she happily lived out the rest of her days.
The assignment this week is to explain Judges 19:1-21:25 looking at the historical context and trying to determine whether or not the story told as it is written would be strange or offensive to listeners in our social context today. First, we need to look at the historical context and it is important to remember a few things we have been learning about the Hebrew Bible and how it came to be. Earlier this semester we learned how biblical writers often wrote about events which had happened several years before they lived and they used these stories to pass on an ideological viewpoint they wanted listeners of their day to hear and glean truth from. Our lessons this week focus on trying to prove the timeline and events depicted in Joshua and Judges.
In his lectures, Dr. Lester discusses how historians take the biblical writings, other writings from other cultures written in the same time period, and combine them with archaeological evidence to better understand what the writer and his audience may have been like. In the writings in the book of Joshua and Judges, the dates and the archaeological findings do not match up leading scholars to come up with theories on how the Israelites settled after the Bronze Age and before the time of the Israelite kings in the monarchical time period.
According to Dr. Lester, there is a stark difference between the book of Joshua where conquest theory states an almost complete genocide of the Canaanites and the book of Judges instead is seen as a peaceful infiltration theory. Most likely is the gradual infiltration model based on evidence found at historical sites. Ann Killebrew discusses three newer theories for the establishment of the Israelites. Social revolutionary theory where the early Israelites rebel against the Canaanite leadership, the pastoral Canaanite theory which states that the Israelites were nomads who settled in the land of Canaan after the collapse of the Bronze Age sometime in the twelfth and eleventh centuries, and her theory called the mixed multitude theory that combines the rest because archaeological evidence contradicts what is written in Joshua.
Excavation uncovers contradictions
As a modern society, we continue to learn and problem-solve using new techniques to try and learn from the past by looking at clues that have been left behind from ancient societies. New means for excavating in ancient cities disproved dates thought to be correct when analyzing the biblical texts when archaeology looked more intensely at small areas in homes discussed in an article by Margeet Steiner. Author Paula McNutt shares her perspective on how anthropology, the study of social organizations in specific societies and cultures in their particular historical context, is used by historians to explain specific events. Historian rely on the information from anthropologists to make sense of things. She further explains subsets of this study are ethnohistory which documents texts both oral and written plus archaeological information and ethnoarchaeology which integrates historical and anthropological data using contemporary information about societies studying it from an anthropological understanding.
As referenced earlier Dr. Lester stated in his lecture scholars must compare the Biblical texts with those from other sources and find the truth or essence of the story instead of focusing only on historical facts. Carol Meyers further describes that we as students learning the Bible need to be mindful that biblical narratives were less about getting history right and more about what the writer wanted to promote as ideology. As a storytelling technique, it is exciting to speak of a past historical event and make it bigger or more important that it might actually have been. The goal becomes trying to understand why the storyteller is using this position to teach the lesson or moral they want their listeners to hear. In his article, Eric Cline talks about how it is believed that Philistines overtook certain areas but don’t appear to have done so violently and military style as first believed. Instead, they probably intermarried and joined cultural practices with the people already living there. In doing so they integrated their practices and traditions which then blended to form a new culture over time. Cline also points out that the Canaanite civilization would have eventually come to an end for all civilizations do and an ending is a new beginning we call that the “circle of life”.
Setting the scene for this story
Barry Banstra’s description of the final chapters of Judges tells how the tribes were quarreling and how the tribe of Dan moved locations and how the other tribes banded together to try and wipe out the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 19:1-21:25) because after Joshua’s death they couldn’t seem to cooperate and lost focus on Yahweh. I speculate that the writer of Judges found it disturbing that when cultures combined parts of the existing culture were modified and changed. He was afraid of losing the traditions, practices, and rituals that were important to him. Why not create a story where if you were to do certain things it would be bad for your tribe? Stories which were preserved and shared with following generations would have done so to teach lessons of the behaviors seen as desirable for living together and worshiping Yahweh. Later in the tale, the writer softens his view knowing that to completely destroy the tribe of Benjamin is not an appropriate behavior. His message is to honor Yahweh by being hospitable and welcoming to others while working with the other tribes but keeping true to your tribe’s culture and keeping unlawful tribes accountable for their heinous actions. It would have been important in the story teller’s day to use an illustration of what might happen to your tribe if you don’t follow the rules between tribes. The rest will rise up and you may become extinct.
Judges 19:1-21:25 shares that there was a Levite who spoke harshly and offended his second wife so she went home to the safety and security of her own family. After four months the Levite goes to woo her back. The second wife’s father demonstrates hospitality and extends it constantly but finally, the Levite decides he needs to leave. Because the group leaves so late in the day they are not able to get far before nightfall. His servant suggests staying at the closest town, but the Levite says no because it is foreign and not Israelite. Instead, they make it to the closest Israelite town which is in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin also Israelites. An old man finds them struggling to find a place to house for the night so he takes them in. The story tells he is not a Benjaminite, but from Ephraim and living in the town, Gibeah. Townsmen come to the house and demand the Levite come out so they may rape him. The old man suggests he will give them his virgin daughter and the Levite’s second wife. The men refuse. The Levite forces his second wife out where she is brutally raped and abused throughout the night, dying from her injuries. He cut her body into twelve pieces and sent one to each of the tribes as a summons. The Benjaminites chose to not give up the abusers and instead rose against the rest of the tribes assembled. After three days of fierce fighting where the Benjaminites won the battles the first two days and prayers to Yahweh were offered each night God told God’s people that they would prevail on the third day and it was so. A small band of Benjaminites fled and the rest of the tribes of Israel took pity on them and let them live. Since the rest of their tribe, including the women and children, had been killed these men needed wives but couldn’t have any from another tribe for the others had taken an oath not to give their women as brides to the remaining Benjaminites. It was decided to find these men wives from another settlement. The town of Jabesh-gilead had not sent men to battle so they were destroyed and the virgin women taken for wives. It was discovered that there were not enough women for the number of men so it is suggested that the remaining men lie in wait and abduct the women of Shiloh when they go dancing in the vineyards. When the fathers and brothers complain to the council they are told to be generous for there were not enough women captured in battle for the men left. Once the matter was settled the rest of the Israelites returned home to their respective tribes and families.
In the time before there were kings in Israel Judges clearly illustrates that each of the tribes had chiefs and when necessary they created an assembly, much like ancient Icelanders gathered for Althing. In the story, these chiefs are summoned when they receive the pieces of the second wife’s body. In our society, this is absolutely unacceptable and United Nations sanctions would be administered to any country thinking this would be an acceptable way to inform others to gather.
In the storyteller’s day her destroyed and dismembered body is symbolic of the actions against her Levite husband for the loss of his property and that in reality, the offending abusers wanted to perpetuate this crime to the Levite personally. Further compounding that fact that the Benjaminites had not offered him hospitality in their own land was a crime towards Yahweh. I surmise it was seen as benevolent to spare the lives of the remaining 600 men even though another town was decimated except for the women who had not yet had sexual intercourse. It is perceived that the rest of the Israelites are making amends to be sure to keep twelve tribes alive honoring their cultures within the greater body. In the idea to right the wrong to each of the Benjaminites, the final abduction of Shiloh’s women still considered pure to become wives for the men without brides then finally corrected the wrongs committed in war by the other tribes.
Again I feel these practices are offensive or should be, to members of society today especially to anyone who identifies as a woman. Women are not property and clearly, the telling of this story in our context today would make a survivor of rape question her worth in the eyes of God. She would want to know if there was such a thing as a loving God. Interpretation of this story might confirm her personal experience and the answer would very likely be no since the woman in this story is abused so severely she dies from her injuries.
After witnessing the picture taken earlier this week showing the white male conservative Republican members of the Freedom Caucus of the United States House of Representatives I am saddened and dismayed that our country continues to try and destroy women’s health rights.  Men have no business deciding what women do with their bodies. Continuing to demonize women’s bodies will further bring the wrath of the Universe upon our nation! Leaders need to be mindful that a woman is sacred as is her body and that a woman’s body is her body from birth to death. When I began my vocal opposition to the treatment of women in the United States of America it was to address the sin of treating us as second-class citizens and denying us proper medical and sexual healthcare. A little over 100 years ago I opened my first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York and now the federal government wants to close the almost 650 Planned Parenthood clinics down.  These clinics provide service to almost five million men and women each year.  What kind of abomination is this? I didn’t travel to the United Kingdom for a pleasure trip! My trip was to escape jail and learn more about birth control in other parts of the world.  In my book, “My Fight for Birth Control” I shared extensively how my mother’s body was ravaged and destroyed by having 11 live births and 7 miscarriages. She only lived to 48 years old while my father lived until he was 80 years old. A blatant reminder that a woman’s body is her body from birth to death and that if she had been allowed to determine her body’s use she too could have lived a longer, more fulfilling life.  1 Samuel 12:1-25 reminds us that even as sinners we can follow God’s teachings and this will please God who will bring good to each of those who serve faithfully.
It is not the time to sit back and remain passive. Instead, we must become active and vocal in defending the sacredness of all people. Women and men are most definitely created in the image of God, the Universe. Arguably there are differences in how our culture practices the socialization of women and of men. The punishment will be forthcoming for not honoring the female quality of nurture which can be seen in our how Americans treat people from other countries like beating them to death , how we pollute and destroy our planet with leaking pipelines and fracking  , and how we do not stop the massive poverty found in both rural and inner city settings . If change doesn’t happen soon Deuteronomy 28:1-68 reminds us that if we follow God’s law, then we will be justly rewarded. Yet if we choose to disobey the consequences will be intolerable because we will have brought God’s wrath unto ourselves.
When United States leadership demonstrates the worshipping the false gods of fortune and fame it means that people are no longer following the teachings of the Universe. God is love and makes it clear we need to love one another as we love ourselves and we are to give our attention to no other gods. Because our leadership continues to deny women control over their bodies and limiting their access to healthcare severe consequences in sex practices of our nation’s youth have taken place. Young people are getting their sex education outside of formal education like schools and churches which lead to not fully understanding the risks associated with sexual behavior leading to riskier sex practices increasing the spread of sexually transmitted infections including AIDS/HIV.  And if churches and schools were offering young people proper education about male, female, and intersex bodies then individuals would view one another not as objects, but as humans. 2 Chronicles 36:11-21 reminds us that deceitful leadership brought God’s wrath on all people and everyone was destroyed.
If men were taught that a woman’s body was her body from birth to death, then rape culture would decrease and men would cease their heinous violations of the women they currently victimize.  Unless women are allowed complete control over their own bodies attacks on transgender women will continue until people are educated about different gender identities.  The Universe clearly calls us to help those in need including women and children. By practicing love for others in the care and concern for their basic human rights we will be on the good side of the Universe. Thus, the Universe will bless and bring peaceful prosperity to our leaders only if they promote a woman’s right to choose her medical and sexual healthcare. The punishment for not honoring to recognize that a woman’s body is her body from birth to death will result in more instances of violence against homosexual people in gay clubs. Repeatedly this has patterned throughout the years. The deadliest attack was at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, but before that, there was the June of 1973 fire set in the Upstairs Lounge in the French Quarter a hate motivated crime which killed 32 people.  Why do leaders not understand that the punishment will come down on them if they do not change their ways? Joshua 23:1-16 is a reminder that what we have is God given and if we choose to disobey God’s will all will be taken from us.
If the United States of America leadership continues to live in opposition to the ways and means of the Universe it can only mean one thing, the Universe will be forced to destroy our nation in a blaze of fireworks bigger than any Fourth of July celebration has ever seen. 2 Kings 17:5-18 is a reminder that God did away with Israel because they did not do as they were commanded so in continuing with their sinful ways instead they were destroyed by God.
To prepare for writing this blog post not only did I have to research information to be used in the post but I studied the information about what scholars believe the Deuteronomistic History writers set as goals when they were writing. I was challenged to try and implement the style of writing for that biblical time period while using United States history impacting, evident, and relevant today. Margaret Sanger was a polemic writer in her time and that is why I selected her as “my voice”. Look for my hyperbole and the phrase I repeated. I attempted to parallel some past events with current ones. Our instructor, Dr. Brook Lester shared in his lecture that writers and editors have written history as one view with one single theological lens to tell the story of the people. And throughout time tribal boast tales have been redacted or re-edited as different events happened. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzmgRv4CeeQ&feature=youtu.be&list=PL-VPCh99l1-mh0JGg9zQ6zbUO1GfLWIrG
Nijay Gupta reminds readers that the Hebrew Bible is not just a book for historical facts instead its content is for stretching our minds and applying its concepts in the parameter of the time period we are living. Each of us tells history as testimony through persuasive storytelling with our biases and perceptions. Writing it to leave for future generations is done to instill a virtue or the truth they hope will benefit those to come. https://cruxsolablog.com/2012/09/06/iain-provan-on-historiography-and-old-testament-interpretation/
As pointed out by Dr. Claude Mariottini, “Historiography is the presentation of history based on the examination, evaluation, and selection of past historical events in order to communicate a message to a specific audience.” Writings were created to convey a message supporting one’s ideological view. Deuteronomistic History had purpose, is a combination of different sources, and had a specific message for its audience. Some believe that the ideology of such writings may be more important than the historical facts and sources used to create these writings. https://claudemariottini.com/2010/11/15/historiography/
Other readings this week addressed how these historical writers and editors took liberties to tell ” their history” with the ideological views they wanted to use to teach their audiences.
It is my hope that this letter finds you well and in good spirits, for I believe spring is just around the corner!
As you know I am in my first semester of seminary studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and I have been working hard in four classes. I am excited to share some of the information I am learning with you. My wish is that you may be challenged to think about things you currently know about the Bible differently as I share with you things I thought I knew but am discovering were taken out of context from when they were written. The class I will be sharing knowledge with you is from my Hebrew Bible class. Over the past few weeks in class, we have been focusing on the prophets. In a further examination of Second Isaiah, which is Chapters 40-55, my instructor Dr. Brook Lester informed us it was written in the time of the Babylonian exile from the perspective that the suffering Judeans of this generation who are still paying for the debts of the preceding generations. Basically, this prophecy means that the people will soon be released from their oppression because of their imploring to Yahweh, another name for God.
So then Dr. Lester says Second Isaiah writes that Yahweh will give power to Cyrus the Persian who will come to defeat the Babylonians and allow the Israelites to be able to return home. The first part of the story is found in Isaiah 41:2-3 where Yahweh has told the prophet someone is on the way to save them. In Isaiah 44:24, 28 it can be seen that Yahweh makes it clear Cyrus is the one who will be sent to help the Judeans get back to Jerusalem so that they may rebuild the city and the temple. As I am reading the next part of the story about Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1-7 I see that the writer has described Cyrus as the “anointed one” which reminded me of what scholar Christopher D. Stanley says, “Cyrus’s role in Yahweh’s plan is so crucial that the prophet can describe this pagan king as Yahweh’s “anointed one”, the same Hebrew word that is elsewhere translated as “Messiah”. (pg. 462) Can you believe it!?! My mind was blown! I thought Jesus was the only messiah. Then I recalled how Dr. Lester has shared that this title was given to kings of Judah and sometimes priests because they were the anointed ones having to do with their roles in leadership.
I was curious as to why the writer had chosen to use that same word considering Cyrus wasn’t a Judean and I bet you are too! Scholar Barry Bandstra shares that Isaiah chose to do so to indicate that even though Cyrus was a foreigner Yahweh had been the one behind it all. So for Cyrus to defeat Babylon in 539 BCE it was really because Yahweh made it happen. (pg. 351) Doing a bit more research I was able to learn even more from an online article by Lisbeth S. Fried. She writes that “The Persian emperor Cyrus is the only foreigner in the Bible to be identified as the messiah or anointed one of Yahweh”. She reminds us that in Isaiah 45:1 Yahweh even says God spoke to Cyrus and took his right hand to guide him in subduing the Babylonians. Crazy, I know. Sometimes God’s chosen people aren’t even Jewish. Love that! I guess when the Universe calls certain people we can say it really is because they are the best person for the job. Maybe we shouldn’t question why God does it that way and instead just accept it and our part in it? What do you think?
Anyway, like I was telling you Fried goes on to state that this title wasn’t just a title. When Isaiah used it in this context it was to share ancient theology. She defines theology as “writing, speech, or thought about the nature and behavior of God” proving that because it was Yahweh’s will to have King Cyrus conquer the Babylonians proves he was protected by God. One last scripture reference from Isaiah reinforcing Yahweh’s blessing on Cyrus is found in Isaiah 48:14. It is a restatement that the Babylonians will be defeated and not in power forever.
Are you still thinking about that whole Messiah thing? I know me too! In newer translations of the Bible like NIV they have chosen to not use messiah, but anointed one instead possibly in order to not confuse people? Another reason we are so committed to the image of Jesus as the sole Messiah is because in the New Testament that title of honor is used about 70 times. I am not sure about you but the other time I think about messiah as a word is in connection with George Frideric Handel’s musical composition with that title. Bandstra referenced it in his writing by saying “In Christian interpretation, the servant of Yahweh is identified with Jesus of Nazareth, a connection made movingly through the use of Second Isaiah in Handel’s The Messiah.” I thought about listening to it, but it is two hours and twenty minutes of such great music I didn’t want to get distracted. Instead, I just listened to the “Hallelujah Chorus” three times in a row singing at the top of my lungs. Good thing for me none of the neighbors came up to ask me to quiet down!
Well it looks like I need to head off to other things. Thanks for reading through this letter to the end. I do hope you learned something new. I look forward to your response and I’m sure that I will see you soon. Remember you are created in the image of the Universe that created you and because that is in the image of love, go be love in the world. Don’t forget I love you too!
P.S. – at the end of this letter you will find all of the resources I used so that you might find them and learn even more!
Either I wasn’t taught my Tanak/Hebrew Bible/Old Testament correctly as a confirmand, if at all. Maybe I just didn’t pay attention as a child. It really doesn’t matter. Moving forward we need to have a discussion about the Universe also known as God. Possibly you reading this blog post have known for some time what I learned this week, but as a neophyte to ancient biblical cultures, I was not prepared for this information. Even though it is old news it is new to me!
Monotheism vs Polytheism
Monotheism is believing in the existence of one god, in my understanding, the Universe. In polytheism, a practitioner of the faith worships multiple gods. Mono-one. Poly-many. Theism- belief in a god or gods.
In Christopher Rollston’s article, “The Rise of Monotheism in Ancient Israel: Biblical and Epigraphic Evidence” he shares what is common knowledge between scholars and that is that pre-exilic Israelites worshiped multiple gods. Christianity is based on the premise there is one and only one God. So the point Rollston makes is that Judaism has transformed over the years because early Israelites worshiped multiple gods. I believe the main point he wishes us to understand is that the prophets used narrative stories to showcase their omnipotent God and to drive home the power and might their Creator Deity had over all other gods.
Rollston’s efforts to explain how he came to this conclusion that because ancient Israelites lived surrounded by nations practicing polytheism they too believed in many gods starts with his analysis of the cultures around Israel. Often locals had their own “state” or “national” deity which was the primary god, but there were still other lesser gods associated with them. (pg. 99-102) He uses examples from surrounding ancient nations to verify that it was almost exclusive for their cultures to worship in a polytheistic manner. Examples come from texts of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and ancient Syria known as Ugarit. (pg. 97-99)
But what does that mean for the Hebrew Bible?
After establishing the cultural context of the region surrounding ancient Israel Rollston looks at Hebrew Bible writings compared to texts written in Ugaritic and other Semitic languages as the proof the people started out honoring multiple gods to becoming a monotheistic culture which then set them apart from the neighboring nations. (pg. 102-105)
He specifically looks at the Hebrew phrase which translated means “the sons of the god” (pg. 102) After explaining how it’s used in Genesis Rollston then goes on to examine the phrase when it is used in Deuteronomy 32:8-9. Here he compares it to the translation found in the Septuagint (The Septuagint is the Greek translation in case you were wondering. I was too which is why I had to research further.) (pg. 105) Rollston informs the reader that these changes demonstrate how the text had gone through revisions when different scribes put it in print.
As Yahweh (the Hebrew name)/God/the Universe began to be recognized as the only God of the Hebrews the way God is spoken of changes. To show this Rollston uses examples from the Psalms, Job, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, and 2 Kings to illustrating how God is the head of all the gods. (pg. 106-110) At this point, the scriptures still recognize that the other nations have their lesser gods. Even though we may have been taught to believe that there has always only been one which is our most powerful God. Rollston shows this as a transformation from when Yahweh was simply the national God of Israel. Now there is the understanding that Israel’s God is of more importance than the others.
It is in the late 7th and early 6th century where Yahweh/God is first referred to as the only God. Rollston uses the excerpts from Jeremiah 10:3-6 and Isaiah 44:14-20 verifying this to the reader. (pg. 111) He has now made the transformation of belief complete.
What is Rollston’s point?
To reiterate I believe Rollston wants the reader to realize that the context we read the Bible in today was not how it was translated to be understood in the time in which it was written. He has extensively and thoroughly argued step by step why he believes this is so. As the information is presented we can see that religion and the religious texts continue to have a fluidity due to the changing culture which is accessing and interpreting them.
Rollston points out how the history which was documented in biblical texts was often “updated” or changed to fit the theology of the current culture. So while the text in these biblical narratives may have remained the same their meaning meant something different to each culture which has used them. Clearly stating this pattern in his conclusion. (pg. 114) He wants those studying scripture to find the “human component” within the text by making sure one is aware of the cultural context and how it must be taken into account when studying the Bible. (pg. 115)
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe Rollston, but I felt in good research application I should see what at least one other scholar had to say on these matters and here is what Christopher D. Stanley shared in “The Hebrew Bible A Comparative Approach”. He starts off by stating that in the writings of the Hebrew Bible it can be seen how Yahweh and Yahweh’s relation to other deities has evolved. (pg. 154) Stanley further describes the polytheistic nature of the nations around the Israelite people and names several of the most common gods. (pg. 155) I found it interesting that Stanley has a section describing where it is believed that the Yahweh story came from. The other religious traditions of the pre-exilic period had stories of where their gods came from, but not Yahweh. Yahweh existed before creation which makes this story unique from all others. (pg. 157) Because this deity is set apart from the rest in the very beginning it would logical that tracing its origin would be easy, but it is not. No other texts within or outside of the Hebrew Bible can shed light on this debate. Just another of the Universe’s many mysteries.
What does this mean for our interpretation?
The reality of what was happening when these biblical texts were written was that Israel was a small nation surrounded by large nations who were constantly overtaking their homeland and influencing their culture. Prophets spoke to the Israelites to unite them and keep them in a positive mindset during times of oppression. Rollston demonstrates that while it may be perceived that there has always been one and only one God instead there has been a transformation from polytheism to an acceptance of monotheism over time. It may have come about to help differentiate the Hebrew people from the other nations. Especially since they were constantly fighting for their land and a national pride.
Over the past 30 years, cultural variations are apparent to those of us who’ve lived them. For me personally learning that ancient people worshiped more than one God doesn’t seem Earth-shattering. Actually, I would argue that we have come full circle. In our current world where many people believe they need more money, can’t seem to have enough stuff, and are not happy these individuals seem to be worshiping a set of new gods. The gods of power, money, and technology are just a few which come to mind. Now our challenge is to see what the scriptures would say in the context of our current culture regarding my observations. What do you think? Do some people continue to practice polytheism without even knowing it? Am I crazy? Probably. It’s okay the Universe loves me, this I know.